A baseball season usually ends in two ways.
When a team is talented enough – and a bit lucky – to win a championship, it ends up in a bunch of players near the throwing hill, or it ends in the outfield, a place where teams often gather one last time , huddled with guns around each other after a loss.
For Xavier University, it ended on Thursday, March 12th, in a hotel lobby in Southern California.
The night before, the Musketeers played USC, at which point the NBA suspended its season over concerns over the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The next day, Xavier was scheduled to head to Cal State Fullerton from USC for another series on their spring break trip west.
“We woke up on Thursday and you could tell that the momentum was still moving in the wrong direction,” said Xavier head coach Billy O’Conner.
The team should change hotels. Before that happened, they learned that the series starring Cal State Fullerton had been canceled.
“At this point we’re trying to crawl and get a flight home because we didn’t want to get stuck in California,” said O’Conner. “So we had to check out of this hotel and it’s just a heavy downpour in Southern California of all places, so it feels like the world is going to end.”
They loaded everything into vans and checked out of their hotel, but their flight home wasn’t until 10:30 am. Without going anywhere, they went to a mall, which O’Conner probably wasn’t the best idea, with hindsight. While at the mall, they saw on Twitter that the College World Series had been canceled, followed by another announcement that the rest of the season had been canceled. They returned to the hotel and O’Conner spoke to his team in the lobby.
“I had to get out of the room,” said Senior Sam Czabala. “I sat on the roadside in front of the hotel and just cried.”
O’Conner said, “It was heartbreaking. I cried. Boys were crying. That it ended up like this was the hardest part, and also the uncertainty about what would become of it. ”
Questions about the future and what had just happened filled her mind.
“The season always ends and usually ends in defeat. You know how to complain about that defeat. You think about what could have been done better. You celebrate the highlights – it wasn’t really like that this year,” said O. ‘Conner. “It was so sudden and unexpected and you didn’t really know how to process or really take in what had just happened and that was the hardest part for me.”
They made it home, and the next day, O’Conner and his coaching staff had their exit meetings. They played 15 of the 56 games on their schedule.
“Within 48 hours we were playing USC on Wednesday night until our season was over and the boys were on their way home for the rest of spring,” said O’Conner.
As the list fell apart, speculation grew over the possibility that the NCAA could grant all spring sport participants an additional year of eligibility.
“It was hope,” said Czabala. “It made us realize that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. We don’t know when this will all get better, but it gave us hope to keep moving forward and keep working. Immediately we said, ‘We want it back.’ ”
On March 30, the NCAA Division I Council agreed to approve an additional year of participation in student-athletes in spring sports affected by the shortened COVID-19 season.
Xavier’s entire baseball roster, as well as the rest of the school’s spring athletes, are getting a year back.
Of Xavier’s four senior baseball players, three have already decided they will return next season. Trey Schramm, who is from suburban Chicago, Illinois, Czabala, who is from Atlanta, and Andrew Sexton, who is from Cincinnati and competed in the 2016 La Salle High School State Finals, will all be back next season.
Senior Nate Monastra, a native of Olentangy High School in the Columbus area, has a tough decision to make.
“I applied for a few jobs in the fall and got one at GE Aviation in Cincinnati that I really wanted,” said Monastra. “Now I have to decide whether I want to take this job in the fall or whether I want to come back and do my Masters (degree) and play another year. I’m in a good position, but you almost wish you didn’t have both options, so it’s not that difficult. ”
Whatever he decides, Monastra says he will not regret his decision. And if he takes the job, he’ll be in town to see his friends play at Hayden Field for the next season.
Sexton said it took him about a week to decide that he would be back.
“I just had to sit down on my mind and piece together what I wanted to do with my life,” said Sexton. “I didn’t really have any other commitments, but I’m at a point in my life where I either work or go to school.”
The NCAA’s decision was the correct one by most, if not all, of the accounts. However, some problems will arise in the future.
Each NCAA spring sport has a roster size and scholarship limit.
“The NCAA has given us a year of relief for the next year,” said O’Conner. “We usually have a roster limit of 35 employees and 11.7 grants.”
However, this one-year grace period does not solve everything.
“Because now everyone (freshmen to seniors) has a chance to come back for their fifth year, and we’ve already hired juniors, sophomores, and newbies to replace the boys who should graduate after their senior year.” said O’Conner. “From a roster management perspective, there are definitely a lot of things to do. It’s kind of a side effect of the decision they made, but for me the decision had to be made. ”
O’Conner went on to say that the most important thing is to do what is right for the student-athletes. The ripple effect of this decision means coaches across the country are having to figure out a complex roster situation.
The other elephant in the room that O’Conner pointed out is that Major League Baseball and its players struck a deal due to the coronavirus to cut the 2020 MLB draft from 40 to just five rounds.
“You have 35 rounds worth of guys who would be professional baseball players who are going to be in college now next year, in addition to all the seniors who have a chance to come back,” said O’Conner, suspecting so The next season could be up to 2,000 college baseball players more than usual. “There are so many levels that I don’t know we fully understand the implications this will have across the board.”
There is no baseball for the first spring in a long time. It is impossible to calculate what that fact means for O’Conner and his players.
“That’s what I thought on the first weekend,” said O’Conner. “I probably hadn’t had a Saturday or Sunday off in the spring for almost 15 years.
“Baseball is such a small part of what’s really important around the world. It is insignificant to the health, work, and financial problems people are currently facing, and I fully understand that.
“But when you put in so much time and energy and think about it like college baseball coaches and the guys on our team, it feels really important. It is what you do and to take that away there is still a big hole in your life.
“We talk to our players all the time that a college baseball player is not who you are, it’s part of who you are, but it’s not who you are as a person. Well, college baseball is kind of my identity as a person. It’s my job, it’s my job, it’s my livelihood, it’s all I do and you take that away and it becomes, “What do I do now?”
Sexton sided with his coach: “I wake up with no idea what to do. I sleep until noon, play Xbox and do my schoolwork.”
Every athlete, no matter what sport, is separate from something they love right now.
“I’m 23 years old and I still love going out there every day,” said Schramm. “You still miss the games and the stuff, but I just miss being with the guys. I think that’s the weirdest part – 35 of my friends have just been taken from me and now we’re all locked in our respective homes.
“Sport is not the be-all and end-all, but it’s a kind of life in which we’re all in the same boat. I woke up watching MLB Network, just watching reruns of old games, and doing everything to make it feel a bit like a baseball season. ”